Next semester, SMCCCD students will participate in the first ever Global Virtual Internship Program, interning remotely with companies and organizations based in Costa Rica, England, and Italy. While this program was initially launched in response to Covid-19 and the travel restrictions it imposed, SMCCCD Study Abroad plans to continue to offer virtual programs beyond the pandemic, recognizing the access virtual programs provide to students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to participate in a global experience. The Global Virtual Internship Program is made possible through collaboration with the Skyline College Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Development Division and Career Counseling faculty, Lavinia Zanassi. Below is a discussion between Ms. Zanassi (LZ) and Stephanie Wells (SW), Program Services Coordinator for Study Abroad, about her decision to collaborate on the Virtual Global Internship Program and the opportunities that she sees programs like these providing our students.
SW: What value do you see a student gaining from a virtual global internship?
LZ: For one, the pandemic has presented to us the importance of virtual communication. It’s something people have done for quite a while, but now it really has become part of everyone’s lifestyle. If we are to prepare students for life after Skyline, we would be doing them a disservice if we didn’t teach them how to communicate in this virtual era. Also, this program allows students to gain exposure to different customs, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. It has brought us to the 21st century; it’s necessary and timely.
SW: You were involved in the student interview and selection process. What was that process like?
LZ: What I really liked about the interview and selection process was that students had a true-to-life opportunity to apply for a position and respond to a series of questions, presenting themselves professionally and being a self-advocate. What I found especially valuable was the “skills test” that students completed, in which they were asked to write a hypothetical email to an internship supervisor addressing a challenge they were having in their internship. Then, during their interview with the selection committee, they were asked to give their rationale for how they communicated in their email. This allowed them to showcase their problem-solving skills, professional etiquette, and sense of self awareness, practicing how to resolve issues in a professional setting. It took them away from the comfort of a classroom, out of passive learning into active learning; there was no index with the correct answer in the back of the book. This allowed them to show their personality and demonstrate, through practice, the deeper problem-solving skills they have, as well as to discuss the various ways to approach a situation.
SW: Do you believe this program will continue to have value post-Covid?
LZ: Yes, I do. This is an example of something coming down the path unexpectedly that we must not only adapt to but take advantage of. This is an important global connection opportunity we can offer to more students. Many students told us they would have never considered a program abroad for a variety of reasons — namely finances, familial obligations, and work commitments. This program allows these students to participate in a global experience they may not have otherwise considered.
People sometimes ask, “how can you experience another culture virtually?” But building intercultural awareness goes beyond the sights. This program allows a deeper interaction that requires students to focus on their relationship-building and learning how to communicate their meaning across cultures in a professional setting. So, the learning is at a different level. If people can find soulmates virtually, why can’t we assume that a virtual global experience will allow students to take away important lessons that will enhance their life. It is really innovative, thinking outside the box—even outside the traditional internship experience. It’s interesting because students are in the safety of their home, so there is no risk from travel, but there is communication and relationship risk; they learn the importance of choosing their words because they have to rely on their words when all information is exchanged remotely.
SW: What other study abroad programs have you participated in?
LZ: I have been a faculty leader for two Community Travel Programs to Italy. The irony is that I had been brought up speaking Italian as a first-generation Italian American, so I had knowledge and familiarity of that culture but was never able to travel there until much later in life. When I had the opportunity to return as a faculty liaison, it allowed me to experience the culture in a new way, from an educational lens. I’ve always been an advocate for students to have a global experience during their educational years. I see the impact these programs have for our students. America is only one part of the world, and yet when you’re raised here, it’s everything. Gaining global knowledge and interacting with the larger world is a lesson in humility – the realization that there will always exist other ways to do something, other ways to live this life, and that our way may not always be the only or the best way. Experiences like these, that allow our students to see how others around the world live, work, and communicate, enhance their educational, personal, and professional development.
SMCCCD Study Abroad is the district-wide study abroad program housed in the Global Learning Programs and Services Division at Skyline College. For more information about studying or interning abroad, faculty teach abroad opportunities, community travel for lifelong learners, visiting international faculty presenters and student scholarship opportunities, please contact Zaid Ghori at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 738-7088 or Stephanie Wells at email@example.com. You can also learn more by visiting the SMCCD Study Abroad Facebook page or Instagram page @smcccd_study_abroad
Article by Stephanie Wells